‘Many Miles Many Smiles’

You are loved!❤

That is the note every child received. In five straight days I had reached more than 500 impoverished Bangladeshi children and gifted one goodie bag each that consisted of an item of new clothes, a pair of slippers and chocolate. Then together we headed for the group lunch. The children grinned from ear to ear, laughed and screamed in joy and burst out in happiness. All this happened due to a ‘three day campaign in my Facebook fan page’. I would like to thank every friend who has donated HAPPINESS to these children. Thanks for sharing your world with these children. During five days from morning to noon I had unforgettable moments with street children, child labourers and unprivileged rural children. My friends, in this video I am sharing a glimpse of that joyous experience which which many of you have created along me. I am welcoming you to have a look at what have you brought to these children!

Click in this Link to watch the video: Video of Many Miles Many Smiles

‘Is this mine?’ Salauddin uttered with surprise. ‘Are these all for us?’ with the same surprise, Ratan, Sojib and Yusuf asked. I nodded with a smile and before I could answer, Sojib run up and called out every child’s name they are living with. To my surprise within half an hour about a hundred of children encircled me with a thousand questions. I handed every child one goodie bag that consisted of a new pair of slippers, new clothes item and chocolate. Their sparkling eyes, bright smiles and warm words made the evening unforgettable. Among them a few were not smiling and seemed confused. I patted them on their backs and asked what happened and then questioned them if they weren’t happy with the new things. With hesitation they asked me if I could provide them with some food to eat as they had not eaten anything since yesterday. That moment I decided besides giving them one goodie bag I will also treat them in a good restaurant and make their day fulfilled. When I declared they can have their lunch in a restaurant their happiness exceeded its limit.

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There are hundreds of boys and girls who work as child labourers with their parents who work in the brick fields. While Munni was wearing her new given dress, she shared with me, ‘I hadn’t gotten any dress or shoes for last Eid. Today is my Eid day.’ While wearing their clothes and slippers they continued to laugh, showing their new things to each other and continued to giggle as they saw me waving and leaving them.

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The hardest part was to buy different clothes and slippers for different age groups. I would like to give special thanks to my students and companions Tutul, Disary and Proshanto for their generous time and effort. By this post I would like to thank each of you who have helped me with time, labour and generosity for this mission.

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The scenarios in the factories weren’t different. The child labourer formed a queue voluntarily and continued to surprise me by their gratefulness. I could not imagine a small goodie bag could give so much happiness. When they opened their gifts each of them smiled instantly. Even in the rural village where  our ‘First Light School’ has its junior students, those who belong to extremely poor families burst out in joy while receiving their gifts. All of them gathered, lined up and shouted ‘Thank you!’

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My friends, see what we have done together with a small three day campaign. Your generosity filled hundreds of innocent souls with the greatest gift of ‘Happiness’. Thank you! Thank you for showing them that there are people in the world who have a heart to love and give.

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Innocent Feet

Shaheen (10 years old) does not feel badly anymore to walk with empty feet. Five months ago when he first started walking without sandals, broken pieces of glass and small sheets of tin oftentimes cut his feet. Sometimes when he would hop onto a running train to save himself from the station inspector, the damaged surface of the train’s step would injure his bare feet which caused him much suffering for some nights. In pain, he could not work for a few days. Nowadays, Shaheen thinks dirt layer surfaces for his feet are actually saving him from injuries.

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When Shaheen’s mother was alive she used to put oil on his hands, legs and hair. Shaheen knew his mother well and if she could see him now, she would do it again. She had never beaten him ever. But after her death when the new mother arrived, she and his father used to beat him every night. Often he had to spend the night in the yard in front of the closed door of his father’s house. One morning last summer, Shaheen left his village and took the train which was coming to Dhaka. He no longer misses his past except for his mother.

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Now he carries the goods of passengers in the train station in bare feet. Even if he wishes to buy a pair of sandals, how will he manage money? And if he does manage to buy them, how will he safeguard them? Yesterday his friend Ismail’s new sandals were stolen and Ismail cried for the whole day. He had bought them with 150 taka by saving two days of income. Ismail now collects empty plastic bottles to sell in the recycle shop and has not spoken to anyone since he lost his sandals.

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Like Shaheen and Ismail, Shakil, Jahangir, Baii, Imon Ali, Arman, Emon, Fahim, hundreds of children are moving around in the train station in bare feet. All of them are living in the same condition. Some came here a few months ago and some came years ago.

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Every one of them has two similarities. One is that they all walk the whole day in bare feet in order to earn bread and the other is the tragedy of their lives. Most of them left home because of the loss of their parents, or torture by their step parents, or because of acute poverty.

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With those small bare feet they used to run away by escaping the eyes of the station master or station police. When the trains arrive or passengers come, they run swiftly over the hot stoned train tracks and take a load on their heads. If they get 10 taka (one cent) they buy nuts for lunch and if they can earn more, they can have rice and lentils. This 7-12 year-old children’s feet are telling the tales of their fate: evidence that tells how they are bearing their lonely young lives on those innocent feet.

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 A question to humanity from a 11 year old Maruf:

‘No one cares for us. I cut my feet by broken piece of tin. It bleeds for days but no one stops and asks to help me. Like me hundreds of children are walking in bare feet and no one ever asks us if they can give a pair of slipper. Isn’t this a selfish world with cold hearted people.’

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Maruf

Can we together prove him wrong? Can you donate slippers for these street children and show them that we care about their suffering, their bare feet matters to us? Can we?

I am going to gift slippers to these street children on 7th January, 2016. If you want to donate for slippers please email at akashimages@gmail.com (NOTE THAT THIS IS NOT MY PAYPAL ACCOUNT) to receive information of paypal or other transaction. you can donate slippers (size 33 – size 40) at our address; those who live outside Bangladesh can as well donate money by paypal and those who are living in Bangladesh but can’t find time to buy and courier slippers can donate by BKASH. To know details you can also message me at facebook (facebook.com/gmbakash/). Please mention your name when making the donation as I will be sharing the list of donors in the next blog post by sharing images of the event.

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Lastly I hope my favorite quote will inspire you as much as it inspires me:

I am only one, but I am still one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something. And because I cannot do everything I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.

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Sami Hamja

Smoke and Ashes

Rozina counts every day for six months running. Her family starts working long before the sun rises even when her small kids are remaining in the deepest sleep. She feels bad about calling them for work but like every day she cruelly has to do it. Everyone comes to have breakfast when the rice is still in the process of cooking. She rapidly waves her hand and lets the fire rise. During this time she quietly thinks about their time in the village that is far far away from this isolated brick field. She recalls her abandoned home and acutely feels a need to see the village sooner. But her urge quickly vanishes when she also remembers those days of starvation. Jalil sleeps in the bed that is made by gathering brick after brick. Rozina tried to hide those bricks by a flowery bed cover. Razina and Jalil have been married for ten years. Along with their five-year daughter and six year old son her family comes to work in this brick filed for six months in every year. 

Five years old Sadia is working in the brick field for first time. Along her, seven members of the family are serving in the brick field to repay their loan. Sadia’s job is to dry 5000 bricks every day. For such seven days work she weekly gets 250 taka ($3). Sadia who once used to be naughty now hardly talk. She only smiles when after working she finishes collecting coal for her family.

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akash (6)The houses that have been built by brick field owners are home to 100 brick field workers’ families. Just like Rozina they are living in hope of returning to their village one day. No one decorates their house. If a family buys any new item it goes into a box and it remain there until they get a final call to go back to their real home in the village. Rozina’s red bangles, her daughter’s new shoes, boy’ toy; everything goes into the trunk. She also keeps some precious things of her mother-in-law who dies last year from tuberculosis. Everyone says her mother-in-law died because she worked in the brick filed. Rozina does not believe it. Once the whole family strived for three days and no one died that time. Death is written by fate. This brick field is a way for them to survive; a way to feed themselves and their children.

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The sound of songs awakens the brick field locality. The brick field workers start working. They are used to listening to songs from their mobile phones. The rhythm of the songs motivates them to work. Rahmat Miah has been working in brick field for seventeen years. The day he started understanding life he found himself in the brick field. During childhood he used to help his father for transferring bricks or lining the piles. Till today he does not do any work other than working in brick field. After carrying 5000 bricks he can manage to earn 200 taka for doing the bazaar shopping for his family. Sometimes he could save a little amount after cutting all costs. But his body does not help him much. Every month he has to take leave for 4-5 days because of illness then he has to spend out of that precious savings for food or medicine.

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Men, women and children everyone remains busy in the brick field. Sometimes when the sun goes up in the overhead a few older men or women fall to the ground. Then they get an hour break. They have to carry or shift or line up 5000-10000 bricks every day. However they loudly chat in a half an hour break. They smoke and talk about the economy and the politics. Women generally rest in silence and sometimes go to their quarters to do quick house chores. Children work continuously. It seems that working is some kind of important game. Small Minara who is just four years old collects coal from the brick field. Why does she collect coal? After a long silence she replies boldly, ‘This is my job’.

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During the one hour lunch break they eat a lot. Three plates of rice and lentil is their daily lunch menu. Men who are living with their families eat with them; those who came alone to the brick field eat in groups of men. A few go to take a quick nap. This is a kind of moment when they will not speak or hear a single word. All are tired, very very tired. Life goes on; work starts again after break.

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Smoke and ashes blow everywhere. Workers’ bodies turn black in smoke and ashes and their feet turn black like coal. Still they continue to work in a dreamless brick field. In the middle of this Rozina dreams to go back to her village. Rahmat tries hard to save a few pennies, the children continue to collect coal. Very Far from the town the workers of the brick field continue to work to build our urban world.

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The Pride of Hijab

The wearing of the *hijab reflects the modern Muslim woman’s independence, her new world attitude in which she has a choice in whether she follows this old tradition or not. Her hijab displays her confidence to live life on her own terms and communicates the message that she is respected, intelligent and a pious person in her culture. She is also purposefully not drawing attention to herself vis-à-vis the male population in certain Muslim countries such as Bangladesh.

Beside religious value, this piece of folded head scarf can tell much about a woman. So, what does your hijab say about you? The colour, the style, the adornments, if any, all reflect the individual. There could be stripes or flowers that represent the softness, the brightness. These choices allow a woman to express who she is. The hijab sends clear signals about a Muslim woman and her personality. The increasing trend of wearing stylish hijabs or head scarves among young females in Bangladesh is not all about fashion nor has it been imposed upon them by Muslim parents or family. I have interviewed a hundred young Bangladeshi women and have compiled their opinions in order to know what has most inspired them to wear the hijab.

‘When I started hijab I wasn’t sure I could continue it or not. In summer time it is very hot in Bangladesh and traveling by bus become very hard for the weather. In the beginning it was very difficult but I have seen respect for me in eyes of people as a hijabi girl. I will continue to wear hijab’ – Adiba

‘I have been suffering from bad hair. After wearing hijab it has reduced. Hijab has brought a lot of change in my look also. I am feeling new. My family says it will protect me too’ – Jannatul Ferdous

The answers of these women I interviewed surprised me. Eighty percent of the women are wearing a hijab willingly just to protect themselves from evil eyes. For them this is a self-defense mechanism. Does that mean that all of the men of the country are behaving in threatening ways? Not exactly. But women who are wearing hijabs expressed that in adverse environments such as walking through the streets alone or traveling by public transportation, men used to stare at them inappropriately. The hijabi women said they have the courage to cover up themselves and still continue to walk on the same road with dignity. Many of these girls said, a Muslim girl would not entertain a man in the street by wearing see-through, distasteful dresses. Her ‘hijab’ is her message to the world to see women who are modest, decent human beings with dignity.
 

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A few said straightforwardly, that they cannot close an ill-minded man’s eyes or his mouth but they can cover up themselves. When a man looks at a hijabi woman they see nothing but a message. That is, she is a Muslim girl and her life is ruled by Islam where there is no place for vulgarism. Her hijab is simply a reflection of her dignity.
What has inspired Bangladeshi young women to wear hijabs? Although many women were hesitant and some even refused to reveal their motives because I am a man, the following courageous women explained their reasons for wearing hijabs.

Juthi, a student

‘My hijab is my protection from all those evil eyes around me. The hijab is a message to wicked men that they no longer can stare at me rudely when I am on the road.’ – Juthi, student

‘As a NGO worker I have to travel a lot in public transport and sometime I come to home at late night. My hijab is my protection. It’s been 6-7 years I am covering myself as I had bitter experience of street harassment. Men used to look at women as if they are raping through eyes. As a woman I felt vulnerable and weak tough I used to wear modest cloth. But I have to confess from the day I started wearing Hijab men started to look at me less. I felt strong from inside’ – Siuly, NGO worker

‘As a NGO worker I have to travel a lot on public transport and sometimes I come home late at night. My hijab is my protection. It’s been 6-7 years that I have been covering myself as I had a bitter experience of street harassment. Men used to look at me and other women as if they were raping us through their eyes. As a woman I felt vulnerable and weak even though I used to wear modest clothes. But I have to confess that from the day I started wearing a hijab, men started to look at me less. I felt strong inside.’ – Siuly, NGO worker

‘I am a housewife. I feel very good after I wear hijab. Even when I look at girls who wear hijab seems very respectable to me. It is one kind of self protection and my aim is to follow footsteps of pious Muslim women’ – Jesmin, housewife

‘I am a housewife. I feel very good after I wear a hijab. Even when I look at girls who wear hijabs it seems very respectable to me. It is one kind of self-protection and my aim is to follow footsteps of pious Muslim women’ – Jesmin, housewife

Jinat jahan 12I study in class five. My mother tells me that my hijab will protect me. Also in the Islamic religion women have to cover their bodies’ – Jinnat Jahan (12 years old)

Kasfia

‘It’s been two months since I started wearing a hijab. I feel encouraged by so many girls nowadays wearing hijabs. Two out of five girls are wearing hijabs. For me it brings peace as my family often remains tense when I am out of the home. The hijab is my protection from all evil looks.’ – Kasfia

Jinath rehana sheuli

‘In Islam it’s mandatory for women to cover their bodies with veils. Islam gives women a respectful place in society. Since childhood I have been wearing a hijab. It has impacted my life as it is not only about folding a cloth and covering the body but it also encourages a woman to stand up and move with dignity. Because from the heart I know I am not only covering my body but also not letting men look at me badly. I believe it gives women respect.’ – Jinath Rehana Sheuli

‘As a student I have to travel everyday from home to university. After doing hijab for two years I face less eve teasing and it has given me a sense of good feeling that I am maintaining my life in the light of Islam’ – Laboni

‘As a student I have to travel every day from home to university. After wearing a hijab for two years I face less evil teasing and it has given me a sense of good feeling that I am maintaining my life in the light of Islam.’ – Laboni

Liza‘I started wearing a hijab religiously. No one has asked me to do it but I feel I should do it and it brings me respect.’ – Liza

Mumu a student

‘You can look stylish as a modern Muslim woman when you wear a hijab. It gives me protection and also makes a woman look very beautiful in a hijab.’ – Mumu, a student

Muna

‘Some girls wear hijabs in order to get a good marriage proposal or they just to do it to be in style. But for me it has come from inside. When I did not wear a hijab I experienced men who looked at women as if they were a product on the road and could eye them over any way they wanted. I have seen ill-meaning men’s expressions while on the road. But since the day I started wearing a hijab I have never faced such vulgar looks any longer. My hijab is my safety and self-respect.’

– Muna, school teacher

Lima

‘Dhaka is a very busy city though a few women travel by bus. Whenever I went outside I faced the problem that men used to look at me badly. I started feeling very angry and did not know what to do. My friend started wearing a hijab a couple of months ago and advised me to also wear a hijab. After wearing a hijab I am mentally satisfied that at least I am not showing my body to people. If they still try to see me, it is their ill behavior.’ – Lima

Nahid

I am in the last semester of my MBA. I have been wearing a hijab for six years now. It wasn’t for any reason of fashion nor for conservatism. Islam encourages women to wear decent clothes and commands them to cover their heads and bodies when they go out in public. I easily can move around as I feel safe in a hijab.’ – Nahid Haque

Tania

‘As a student I have to come out of my home every day. It is very difficult to manage time to get ready. When I am wearing a hijab it helps me to get ready easily. Also my family does not have to worry about me much as girls who wear hijabs face less teasing in the street.’ – Tania

Tajnuva‘Many girls are wearing hijabs for fashion. But this should not be. A hijab is to protect you from evil eyes. The girls who are very open and show their bare skin in public are seeking attention from men. But a hijabi girl is beautiful because she realizes her inner beauty more than her outer beauty.’ – Tajnuva

Sharmin

‘A girl can wear a hijab and still be beautiful. It gives us protection and respect.’ – Sharmin

Sniya Sultana , a student

‘From my teenage years I have been wearing a hijab. It is part of being beautiful. In some universities in Dhaka a full veil is not allowed, so I choose a hijab. It is comfortable and always protective.’ – Sania Sultana, a student

‘I am teacher and doing hijab for three years. I do not support girls who are doing ti for style or take it as fashion. It remains as women protector for hundreds of years. Women felt comfort and it brings security for a decent girl who does not want to show bare skin. Some people argue a woman should not do hijab as it makes them look weak, but I completely disagree. It needs courage in a world of style where owmen tend to wear short clothes. Its Muslim women’s dignity who cover up their body and go for searching respect than seeking attention’ – Simul, Teacher‘I am a teacher and have been wearing a hijab for three years. I do not support girls who are doing it for style or who use it as fashion. It has remained as a protector for women for hundreds of years. Women feel comfortable and it brings security for a decent girl who does not want to show bare skin. Some people argue a woman should not wear a hijab as it makes them look weak, but I completely disagree. It takes courage in a world of style where women tend to wear short clothes. Its dignified Muslim women who cover up their bodies and go searching for respect rather than seeking attention.’ – Simul, teacher

subarna parvin 28, school teacher

‘I believe in modesty. It’s been three years since I have been wearing a hijab. For me it is a self-defense as it has protected me from evil eyes. I am a Muslim and a married working woman. Since the day, I started wearing a hijab I noticed that men in the streets were not bothering me insistently. It has given me a sense of dignity and I started seeing respect in people’s eyes for me. When I cannot stop evil eyes at least I can cover up myself and follow the advice that my religion gives me.’ – Subarna Parvin (28 years old), teacher

Tajlima akter

‘I have been wearing a hijab for more than eight years. My mother, grandmothers all wore hijabs or veils. It is not about style or fashion. It is mandatory for a Muslim woman to wear a hijab.’ – Tajlima Akter

Papia

‘Muslim women can be stylish like Western girls. For that there is no need to show skin. I feel a hijab makes a girl more beautiful. Not only does it protect the dignity of the girl, but it also it protects hair and skin.’ – Papia

‘Everyday more girls are doing hijab. It’s a protection from sunlight and pollution. By doing hijab I am covering my hair and wearing decent clothes. I feel very much protected since the day I am wearing hijab’ – Pihu‘Everyday more girls are wearing hijabs. It’s a protection from sunlight and pollution. By wearing a hijab I am covering my hair and wearing decent clothes. I feel very much protected since the day I started wearing a hijab.’ – Pihu

(*what is a  Hijab – a veil that covers the head and chest, which is often worn by Muslim women beyond the age of puberty in the presence of adult males outside of their immediate family as a form of modest attire.)

 

‘Chain of Love’

Life was never easy for Jarina Begum. During childhood she lost her parents in the Kamplapur railway station. She had no memory of her childhood. Lonely Jarina’s struggle never takes a break. After living here and there at the age of twelve, people from her locality gave her a marriage with Ismail. She knew nothing about family life though she started to dream. A few years went well. This was the best time of her life. But when her only son died at the age of twelve her family was shattered. Her husband got involved in drugs. Her happiness lost in darkness. She again gets back her hope during her second pregnancy. ‘Mali’ arrives as an angel in her life. She started dreaming about having a normal life again. But fate was not on Jarina’s side. She discovered when Mali was two years old that she is mentally disabled. Also when Mali was two Jarina’s husband died from taking  excess drugs. Till today ‘Disabled Mali’ is the reason to live Jarina’s Life.

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Now Jarina is only Mali’s maa. Mali behaves like a child at the age of thirteen. She has very slow mental growth. Jarina has to connect her to a chain so that she cannot flee alone while her mother went to work. She was lost twice while Jarina went to work. The tragedy of Jarina losing her own parents is like a nightmare for her. She does not want to lose Mali again. After finding her, she found a way to keep Mali at their place. She chained her with a long chain. She goes to work in the morning and works madly while feeling the tension of Mali. She collects paper from the road. She carefully crosses the road everyday as she knows if she died there is no one for Mali. With cloudy eyes Jarina said, ‘I put a chain on her leg and put a stone in my heart’. While she was saying this, Mali untied her pajama bottoms and squatted to do her toilet. Jarina swiftly wnt there and covered her daughter with a cloth. Mali is Jarina’s world.

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Jarina dreams one day Mali will be okay. Sometimes she gets upset thinking, if Mali could be like other girls, she could help her with earning a living; she could understand how hard it is to work feverishly. But Mali understands nothing. She can only feel the touch of love, the smile of affection. When Jarina ties her hair Mali gives kisses on her mother’s cheeks. When Jarina is feeding her, Mali takes some rice and puts in her mother’s mouth. They have nothing; no home, and no furniture and no utensils with which to cook. This mother and daughter have only love that is sheltering them so far.

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As street people, Jarina and Mali have nothing. They only possess a few household materials that Jarina ties up and hides in a neighbor’s place because Mali cannot take care of anything while her mother goes to work. The neighbors of Jarina help her when she goes to work. They look out for Jarina if someone comes to disturb disabled Mali. The neighbor Kalpona said, ‘There is no one for this mother and daughter. They are living for each other. We see no one like Jarina who is doing this much for Mali. We pray for their happiness.’

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Jarina Begum has now only one dream in life: to educate Mali in order to give her a normal life and to see her as an able person. Jarina pointed at the pen and drawing paper of Mali and said, ‘If there is any heartfelt person who could admit her to a school for the disabled then I can I die in peace’. While embracing Mali, Jarina lastly said, ‘Pray for us so that we, the mother and daughter, can die together. Why is life so painful?’

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‘Orange Generation’

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I grew up seeing my ancestors’ orange beards or hair. It is so common in our culture that I was hardly curious to know why older Muslim people colour their hair, beards or moustaches. With time I learned and found out that it was very natural to know  about the importance of henna in Muslim Culture.

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But for the first time I realized and wanted to know about the real motivation of different individual Muslim men and women for dyeing their grey hair. The first time I started asking the question was when many of my foreigner friends asked me about it frequently during their visits in Bangladesh. Then I started noticing that this colour is making this older generation different. So I started asking the Muslim older generation why they colour their grey beards or hair and what is it that they are so fond of?

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This series consists of portraits of men and women in Bangladesh who have dyed their hair or their beard using the orange-red colour produced by the flowering Henna plant. They shared with me why they use this henna in particular. It’s very common in Bangladesh to see one older person in five old people with orange hair (male or female), and men with orange beards or orange moustaches.

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During Ramadan dying hair or beards is a very common practice as Henna dying comes from religious beliefs too. It has been believed that the Prophet Muhammad (SM) dyed his beard and hair as well. Some men and women who have returned from the Haaj, the Islamic pilgrimage also practice Henna dying. Not only in Bangladesh, but many Muslims across all continents apply Henna dye and coat their hair to get this bright coloured look.

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For those who did not reference religion as playing a role in their decision to color their hair, they consider it admirable to do so. They believe, Henna covers their head and body and makes them look good in their old age. Therefore, for some other elderly people, especially women, Henna is mostly used as a cosmetic thing for their grey hair.  A lot of men also see a red beard as preferable to a grey or white beards.  Besides this reason many older persons usually follow this practice for cultural or traditional reasons, as they saw that older generations always prefer henna dying.

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Why did you use Henna dye?

Answers of question:

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‘I am not old. We all eat polluted food and that causes hair loss and greying is faster. Henna helped to hide my grey hair. Grey means old’ – Mohamaad Sagir

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‘It’s our Sunnat. Our Prophet Muhammad used it’ – Gias Uddin

abdul majid

‘Henna helps to clam down my head and body. I dye my hair every month.’ – Abdul Majid

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‘I use henna dye because I love to do it. What else!’- Yusuf Haulader

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‘I love color more than grey. It’s my fashion. Ha ha ha’ – Mohammad Oli

obaidullah

‘It distinguishes Muslim. It is our culture’ – Obaidullah

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‘Who likes grey hair? I want to be young. Ha ha ha’ – Kashem

gias uddin (2)

‘Most of my friends do henna dying. For the last two years I am doing it also’ – Gias Uddin

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‘Since I have come from the Haaj I started applying Henna to my hair. It has religious value’- Abdul Samad

abdul kader (4)

‘Not only have I, but my wife has dyed her hair to hide the grey. Both of us want to remain young. Ha ha ha’ – Abdul Kader

amina (3)

‘It’s our tradition, our Muslim tradition’ – Amina

mohammad alam (3)

‘My grandfather did it, my father did it and now I am doing it. All older Muslim people love to practice this generation after generation.’ – Mohammad Alam

 

‘Feet tell stories’

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Brick field labouer’s feet tell their tales. Thousands of men, women and children continue tolling in the open brick fields. Their muddy clothes, smudged coal colored skins and bare feet tell the tale about how everyday they are fighting to live a life. I continue to search their stories of struggle about how their hope transform into despair. Once a labourer stopped me to take his portrait and asked me to take an image of his feet and said, ‘Show our feet. It’s enough to explain what we are up to.’

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Under the baking hot tropical sun, Moriyum (7 years old) continues to collect coals in the most perilous conditions even though everyone goes to lunch. Just after shifting 1000 bricks to dry in the sun, Moriyum’s brother Mohsin (9 years old) also goes to lunch. But Moriyum continued to collect coal for her family.

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Working children are a common sight at the brickworks as they regularly employ entire families – who oftentimes make their homes on site. Education is a luxury for Bangladesh’s rural poor with children often earning their keep as soon as they can walk. Ranging in age from young children to grandparents, they work long hours to mix out millions of bricks to fuel construction boom that shows no signs of abating. The high chimneys of brick fields are snot only pouring grey smoke into the air but also blowing it into labourer’s lungs. All of the brick fields are located along rivers. Millions of bricks are burned here. Almost all bricks are made using a 150-year-old technology. Soil is mixed with water, formed into bricks using wooden forms, then left to dry in the sun before being burned in traditional kilns. The process is done almost entirely by hand.

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Kohinoor who was balancing the heavy loads atop her head said, ‘We work like slaves. And we die like slaves.’ Kohinoor’s mother-in-law died last year while working in the brick filed. Another woman who has worked a decade in the field was badly suffering from tuberculosis and headaches. Kohinoor added, ‘We know we will die by working here, but we have no option.’

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Brick-making provides a better income than agriculture or other jobs available in rural Bangladesh, but it is dangerous and often devastating to workers’ health. Accidents are common and workers have no protective gear except save for what they are able to cobble together themselves. 

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By balancing the heavy loads atop their heads, workers must carry the raw mud to the brick making area are where skilled artisans shape it using brick moulds filled by hand. However, the millions of workers who make the bricks face harsh and uncertain conditions. Brick field labourer Makbul said, ‘Everything tastes like mud. I taste mud in my mouth, tongue, throat everywhere.’ By showing the feet of Makbul’s friend, Jasim said, ‘We are brick human. We have feet like coal.’

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Like Makbul and Jashim, hundreds of men come with their families during the brick session in the brick fields. They made their temporary shelter near the brick field in the place given by the brick field owner. The mud house’s bed is made by brick after brick and then putting plastic over the bricks where they rest and sleep. They took loan from the brick field owner which and continue to pay it back by giving labour with full family. Small children of each family works to dry thousands of brick every day. For drying 1000-5000 bricks a child gets 25-50 taka daily. That also goes into the pocket of father for buying food for the family. The Father and mother of each family go to work before sun rise. They carry 12-16 bricks each weighting 2.5kg. For a twelve-hour workday during which an average worker carries about five thousand bricks, he earns Tk. 80 after his expenses are paid. This means toiling 12 hours a day for a daily wage of 120 taka (USD 1.70) for men and 100 taka (USD 1.40) for women.

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Still they hope for a better life and perhaps dream of happiness. During his break, after lighting a cigarette Motahar said, ‘My wife often asks me to take her to the cinema. We have no money left after basic shopping at the bazaar and paying loans. But she managed to save and bought an old phone for me. Now while I work, I listen to songs.’

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(Brick fields are not only causing suffering for labourer but for the environment also. Bangladesh is hit harder than almost any other country in the world by climate change despite emitting very little greenhouse gases. But still the emissions from the brick kilns hurt the environment. Brick kilns are the leading cause of air pollution in the country. There are about 5000 brick kilns in Bangladesh, which are largely responsible for air pollution. Dust from the brick-making sites spreads in the wind to nearby towns and villages clogging the lungs of young and old and generates health problems that the country is ill-equipped to handle. The chimneys continue to poison labourer lives and as well as letting the environment to suffer in silence)

 

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